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 Body image
Submitted By DavidvdW | Added on: 2010 July 04 | Total Visits: 17733 | Printable version

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, whose body is the most beautiful of them all?

Body image and self esteem

Liane Lurie
Our relationship with our bodies begins early on. It is the vessel with which we either develop a healthy curiosity or a destructive obsession. The way in which we view our bodies, our body image, is an area of concern throughout the lifespan, especially during the adolescent and young adult years

Liane Lurie is a Clinical Psychologist in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. She has a special interest in eating disorders and body image. Click here to view her profile


Our relationship with our bodies begins early on. It is the vessel with which we either develop a healthy curiosity or a destructive obsession. The way in which we view our bodies, our body image, is an area of concern throughout the lifespan, especially during the adolescent and young adult years (Stanford & McCabe, 2002). Our body image influences the way we think, feel and behave with regard to our physical attributes, (Muth & Cash, 1997). Whilst parents may have a primary influence on a child’s perception of their body, once a child is of a school going age and more cognitively mature, their peers play an active role in the adoption of new body image attitudes. This highlights the profound and potentially lifelong influence others can have on how we feel about our bodies and ourselves in general (Pelican, Vanden Heeden, Melcher, Wardlaw, Raidl, Wheeler & Moore, 2005). It is these influences which will play an integral role in the formation of one’s identity and the adoption of healthy versus unhealthy lifestyle choices (Pelican et al., 2005). They, in part determine whether we will want to be seen or noticed for who we are and what we offer, or whether we feel more comfortable in the shadows.

At certain stages within the developmental lifespan, children will evaluate themselves in contrast to others. This is linked to processes of both social comparison and an aptitude for self-reflection. If they feel that they fall short, in terms of being the prettiest, or the strongest or the thinnest, their self esteem can be negatively affected. The classroom, playground or other social environments can also become a source of teasing and discomfort. Teasing however is not a light hearted means of interacting (Pelican et al., 2005). Adolescent girls, are particularly self-conscious in terms of their evolving bodies. Weight-related comments from peers or family, as well as air-brushed media influences have the power to contribute to both body-dissatisfaction and disordered patterns of eating. Having weight related concerns and later acting on these concerns can have an adverse impact on both one’s physical, social and emotional maturation (www.hhs.gov).

Children, will intuitively model much of their behaviour on that of their primary caregivers or the person they most identify with, depending on developmental stage. If mom for arguments sake, adopts a restrictive attitude towards food, or a publicly odious attitude towards her own figure, the child may later do the same or the opposite. It appears that even younger children have now become familiar with terms such as fat free, low-carb and protein packed! This is a phenomenon, that affects both males and females. The little boy in a change room full of taller, more muscular and ‘built’ males may also become self conscious. The incredible hulk was not described as such without reason or brawn. Similarly, anatomically incorrect dolls for little girls, are confusing in terms of the standard to which one must strive or emulate. Age related changes in weight and height need to be taken into consideration. The message we feed our children are central. As a parent or guardian you have the ability to educate and guide your child in the world of healthy choices, realistic standards and nurturing habits. The establishment of a pattern of regular eating and appropriate levels of physical activity is important, both in terms of physical but also cognitive development. It is the relationship one has with oneself that becomes the most important across one’s development. A climate, in which one can explore both their strengths and areas they want to develop, goes far in enhancing self-awareness and solidifying a concept of self.

It is the messages that one receives at home which can play a powerful mediating role in the development of both a healthy body image and sense of self. A developing child needs to have a place, where they feel safe to be both the beautiful and awkward caterpillar. A space of both boundaries and freedom. An opportunity to learn that their bodies are only one aspect of who they are. Self-worth is therefore a composition of one’s relationships, feelings, interests, values, personality and an overwhelming sense that one is accepted for who they are. The lengths to which one will go to avoid rejection can play out in both subtle and extreme ways.

Our bodies are one part of what we present to the world. Children need to be encouraged to explore other facets of their being, without fears of being harshly judged. In an ideal world, we would hopefully be able to shift the focus solely from appearance to physical health without compromising emotional well being. 

Scott M. Peck, author of “The Road Less Travelled” summed it up best when he wrote, “When you consider yourself valuable you will take care of yourself in all ways that are necessary.”


Liane Lurie is a Clinical Psychologist in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. She has a special interest in eating disorders and body image. Click here to view her profile


References

U.S Department of Health and Human Services (2009). Body Image and Self Esteem. Retrieved October 27, 2009, from the World Wide Web:
www.hhs.gov

Muth, J.L. & Cash, T.F. (1997). Body-Image attitudes: What difference does gender make? Journal of Applied Psychology, 27, 1438-1452.

Pelican, S., Vanden Heede, F., Holmes, B., Melcher, L.M., Wardlaw, M.K., Raidl M., Wheeler, B. & Moore, S.A. (2005). The Power of Others to Shape Our Identity: Body Image, Physical Abilities, and Body Weight. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 34, 56-79.

Stanford, J.N. & McCabe, M.P. (2002). Body-Image ideal among males and females: Sociocultural influences and focus on different body parts. Journal of Health Psychology, 7(6), 675-684.


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